IT IS hard to believe it has been 20 years since Dermot Morgan passed away suddenly. The much-loved comedian died of a heart attack on February 28 1998 at the age of 45, after wrapping up the filming for the third, and final, season of Father Ted.
A wickedly funny mimic, Morgan first found fame with his satirical Saturday morning comedy show ‘Scrap Saturday’ before going on to star as Father Ted Crilly in the award winning Channel 4 sitcom.
With filming for the beloved show taking place primarily on the West coast, it’s less commonly known that one of most popular and memorable episodes, A Song For Europe, was filmed right here in Limerick city in 1995.
The tongue-in-cheek episode sees Ted and Dougal plot to enter the Eurovision Song Contest with a melody they’ve stolen from a former Norwegian entry to the competition - naively believing that no-one will remember after failing miserably to write their own song.
It was well-known Limerick cameraman and crew member Eugene O’Connor who suggested the episode be filmed here.
“I had no hesitation in recommending Limerick’s Theatre Royal,” he told the Limerick Leader in 1995.
“I played in this venue when I was a member of local bands, Crazy Notions and Razzmatazz some years ago so I had a good idea how suitable it would be for the shoot.”
For three days, Channel 4 film crews and Hat Trick Productions descended on the Upper Cecil Street theatre.
“The set was quite amazing, they were a couple of weeks building it,” former proprietor of the Theatre Royal Seamus Flynn recalled. “It had all the bells and whistles!”
70 Limerick locals were drafted in to join the crew, assisting with assembling the set and starring as extras. d’Unbelievables duo Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny, who starred in the episode, also joined the largely London-based crew.
“Most of these London people didn’t understand what they were doing in Limerick, there’s a lot of theatres between the West End and Limerick,” Seamus chuckled.
“They had to understand that they were working with some mad people who decided the only place to do this was in Limerick.”
Morgan had previously brought his stand-up show ‘Jobs For The Boys’ to the Royal in 1993, selling out two-nights in a row.
“The first show outside Dublin was in Limerick. It went on to the Opera House in Cork and to Galway but Limerick was one of his best shows,” said Seamus.
The city and its politicians in particular, were often the focus of his Treaty 300 sketches on Scrap Saturday.
“Gerry Stembridge, his co-writer on Scrap Saturday, was from Limerick so they did really cutting ones of Limerick and particularly Michael Noonan and Dessie O’Malley,” Seamus explains.
“When he came, he invited them all to the show in Limerick. Dessie was even living in Dublin at the time but they all showed up!”
But Dessie, Willie O’Dea and John Kenny escaped unscathed as Morgan instead dedicated ten minutes of his show to mercilessly mocking Michael Noonan. But the former finance minister took it in his stride however, even bringing the comedian on to Kennedy O’Brien’s for a “few pints of stout” after the show.
Deputy O’Dea said it was “great fun, but some of it was very hard hitting. If you closed your eyes, you would think it was Michael Noonan talking”. Michael Noonan himself said: “Yes, he is very good, it is as close as on radio”.
Seamus Flynn remembers of the much loved and sadly missed Fr Ted star: “He was on, all the time. Just wired and great craic. He liked Limerick and he had great fun here. The biggest crowds we would have had were for Dermot.”